It’s like a field of daffodils, and I just don’t know which to pick, which to leave. I have more plots than sense, notebooks stuffed with ideas, and paper clips, stories scattered like clumps of flowers on a fine spring morning. Some will be harvested, placed in vases, for all to see.
Some will wither where they emerged from the ground, forgotten.
That’s one part of it. The other part of my authorial soul is why I feel so compelled to consider the drama (always drama, most often with a capital D). That’s harder to qualify; demons I’m chasing, compassion for the world around me, endless curiosity. An overactive imagination that cannot be quelled without putting fictional names to pretend faces. What in the world inspires me to spin yarns?
Because for as much as I covet office supplies, that is only one aspect of writing.
I know WHY I write what I do; my brother’s life was wrecked by drugs and the infliction of bigotry. Themes of love, clemency, and equality are a result of that loss. But I’ve been pondering plots long before my brother died; what was the impetus back then? I can only say I had a melodramatic streak that was exacerbated by all the music I listened to, and maybe the soap operas I watched with my dad and grandmother. (Dad broke his leg in a motorcycle accident when he was sixteen, and during his convalescence got hooked on As The World Turns. Subsequently, I was a fan from before I knew any better.) I enjoyed English class as a kid, although diagramming sentences wasn’t much fun. I didn’t watch MTV because we only had three channels. Maybe I worked out my own stories to songs, maybe that was it.
The mechanics of writing are easily defined; what sort of schedule one prefers, employing a computer, typewriter, or pen and paper. First or third person, maybe even second, genres and lengths of manuscripts, all that is pretty straightforward, choices one makes after having decided to walk this plank. Sometimes it truly feels like being shoved down the wobbly end of a board, wondering what awaits in the abyss. Not often is it a field of daffodils.
But even the darkest pit harbors relief. The first book I ever completed was a memoir written after my brother shot himself. It included song lyrics, journal entries, and memories of our childhood, which had led me on one path, him on a very different road. I found the end on a visit to Scotland, my youngest then six years old, talking about the loch: Mummy, they call them lochs here, not lakes. It had been nearly a year since he died, since my life became something else entirely. When we returned from that short holiday, I wrapped up the manuscript, not that my sorrow had abated, but the book was done. All my life I had wanted to write a book. The first one I finished wasn’t what I had ever dreamed.
I didn’t start writing fiction for another eight years. Then, from the fall of 2007, I haven’t stopped. I learned a great deal from my brother’s death, about myself and that I could write, but non-fiction wasn’t my heart’s true desire. I had to walk through many fields of daffodils to find just the right ones; I love those with orange centers.
As a mum, I can be a mean mama, a joke in our household. But I cannot abide cruelty, am baffled by unkindness. I am stymied at many life choices, but I am also driven to understanding them, aching to realize situations that are not mine, but for God’s grace could be. I want to know what makes the heart tick, be it in love, aggravation, empathy. I can’t put an exact finger on WHY I need to write, other than to communicate what I see, what I don’t comprehend. I came up with a novel idea yesterday, well, I’m always coming up with something that bugs or intrigues me, but today I’m going to start writing it, because, well, because I just have to. Some books require intense plotting. Some ask only for the moment. The book I wrote about my brother started on the morning I learned of his death, within a journal entry, just trying to note the minute beginnings of a new life. His was gone, mine had restarted.
I didn’t know it then, in September of 1997, but I had become a writer in the most dire of circumstances, just by scribbling words on a page. That endures right to today. I must tell these stories, the ache in my soul too great to stay stilled.